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  • Writer's pictureJenia Browne

Summer 2023 Independent Research and Initial Thoughts

Hi all! I'm excited to be back! I have big plans for this blog this summer, and can't wait to share them all with you. Thank you so much for accompanying me on my research journey so far and I hope you enjoy the next step!


A lot has changed since my last project. I'm on co-op, starting to plan my graduate school applications, and somehow busier than ever. But most excitedly, I am in a far better place than I was last semester. I loved my research practicum and how much I learned from it, but now that I can proudly say I'm happier, stronger, and more excited about all of the life I have ahead of me, I cannot wait to embark on my second independent research project in a better headspace.


On a less personal level, I am overjoyed that I recently received a Project-Based Exploration for the Advancement of Knowledge (PEAK) Experiences Award. In particular, I received the Summit Award, one of the two highest PEAK Experiences Awards. Not only does this affirm that I've grown as a student and independent researcher, it provides me with funding to undergo my research project and dedicate my time and efforts to it over the summer! I am also very grateful to have Dr. Layla Brown as my mentor. As one of the Africana Studies Program faculty, I know Dr. Brown has so much insight and knowledge to share and I am lucky that I get to learn from her!

The cover of Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Sexualities
One of the sources I will be using for this project.

Now, onto the project. My project this summer will explore gender expressions in queer African sexualities and diverse gender identities. In particular, I want to look at how gender expressions in queer African communities subvert (or possibly reinforce) western ideas of the gender binary and traditional gender roles. As a Black femme, it has always been interesting to me how femininity, masculinity, and androgyny are expressed uniquely by queer people. As a Black feminist studies minor, I have mostly read and worked with pieces from the U.S. and the Caribbean, and I wanted to explore these topics on the African continent to become a more well-rounded Black feminist and Black queer studies student. I am also interested in seeing how African queer identities (both past and present) relate to and influence Black queer people in the United States.


Similar to my last project, I want to explore this topic to better understand how Black queer people resist oppressive structures like heterosexism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, and how knowledge about this resistance can help further and expand critical social theories, social justice movements, and other radical practices. As always, I am also looking to highlight how beautiful and diverse Black queerness is. Black queer studies is a field I hope to contribute to and learn from for my entire life, and I am glad that this passion has continued to be supported by those around me.


Of course, a new project is also very, very intimidating. As a student, especially a Black, queer student, I am not immune to feelings of imposter syndrome. New research alongside graduate school applications can amplify these feelings. I have to consistently remind myself that my thoughts, my work, and my being are important and valued, regardless of whether I receive external validation. Every person is important and deserves to be seen, and that includes myself. I would never devalue someone else's contributions, so why would devalue my own? Part of this project is going to be making sure I'm taking care of myself. It will be a lot of work. I have ambitiously set myself up to double the books I read for my last project in about half the time. Planning for self-care will be just as important as planning a project timeline.


Finally, there are of course some considerations that I have to keep in mind. First and possibly the most important is to remember not to generalize my research across the entire continent. There is no singular way to be African and queer. Every culture in Africa, as with every other part of the world, is unique and deserves to be treated as such. This is especially important as it has been rather common for African culture to be generalized in various fields and scholarship. In a similar vein, many of the identities and cultures I may study cannot be contained within modern national and often colonial boundaries. Another important part of my research, at least to me, is that I have to do my best to find pieces that come from African authors and scholars. Western definitions and ideas of what counts as "scholarship" have often excluded the contributions of non-western scholars. It is my goal to center the voices of African contributors as much as possible, especially considering that I am writing as a Black U.S. citizen of Caribbean descent. This makes it important for me to not only research my topic but to also look into how to write about African cultures in a respectful way. This process involves listening to and learning from African scholars, including those who would not typically be seen as intellectuals or scholars in western academia (a principle that is a fundamental part of Black feminist studies). These are only a few of the things that I'll have to keep in mind, and I'm sure I'll come across many more.


Overall, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to conduct more independent research. It really is a blessing to be able to research topics that I'm passionate about, and more selfishly, topics that relate to my identity and communities and help me better understand them. I want to make the most of my undergraduate career and these projects make me feel like I'm doing so. I'm so thankful to everyone who is coming on this journey with me and for all the support I've received from my peers, my mentors, and Northeastern. My project will officially start the last week of June. I hope that you'll continue to tag along this summer!


With love and appreciation,

Jenia



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